As the 2016 Knicks campaign wraps up, the franchise might look to change who’s at the helm next season. The Knickerbockers currently sit at a mediocre record of 31-48, earning them the 13th spot in the Eastern Conference, five spots out of the playoffs. On February 8, 2016, Knicks President Phil Jackson, notably the league’s most notorious head coach in history, made the decision to cut ties with 2nd year Head Coach Derek Fisher. He had replaced Mike Woodson a season prior. Woodson had a career record of 109-79 over his 3 year tenure in The Big Apple, Fisher was only 40-96 after a franchise worst season in 2015. Fisher was replaced by Assistant Coach Kurt Rambis, who had a career record of 55-145 before joining the struggling Knicks squad. Rambis joined the squad at a record of 23-31, and has proceeded to win only 8 games. The Knicks face one major question this season: Was this season a success or a failure? If you are an optimist, this season was a success. The Knicks accomplished a significantly better record this season, they saw real potential in rookies Kris Porzingis and Jerian Grant, and Carmelo Anthony did not request a trade (yet). If you are a pessimist, this season was a bust. The Knicks failed to make the playoffs for the 3rd straight year, the Knicks fired their Head Coach, and the usual, but aggravating, Carmelo Anthony rumours showed their ugly head. The answer to that question can only be answered by one man, and that’s Phil Jackson. The next Head Coach of the Knicks can safely be narrowed down to 5 candidates, and 2 wild card candidates. The obvious first candidate is Kurt Rambis, who is already at the helm in New York.
Rambis’ record might not be too appealing but he does run the Triangle offense, and that’s all Phil really cares about. With Rambis, he seems undesirable with Knicks fans and has been rumored to have lost the Knicks locker room. According to Marc Berman of the New York Post, “sources have indicated the players don’t respect Rambis with the same vigor as they did Fisher.” Rambis is appealing to Phil because he runs his bread-and-butter triangle offense, said to be an out-dated way of basketball, but it did account for Phil’s 9 rings as Head Coach. Under Fisher, the fans pleaded for a rotation change. Under Rambis, they got that. The highly-criticized veteran guard Sasha Vujacic broke into the starting lineup after being made a reserve in Fisher’s rotation. This sent a disgruntled Arron Afflalo (who CAN opt-out after this season) to the bench, where he was greatly needed. Vujacic was a necessary change, brought solid defense, a play-hard attitude, and, yes, he runs the triangle. To be clear, a change was needed, but that change did not have to be Vujacic. He had shot very poorly in the initial wake of Rambis, and is not exactly in his prime. Rambis’ faults lie with Carmelo Anthony, who he overuses in games that do not mean much. Carmelo, who has struggled with injuries for the past couple seasons (knee surgery, sprained ankle) has been playing in first quarter for its entirety almost every game under Rambis. The focus of the Knicks, who are out of the playoffs, should be to preserve Carmelo, and playing budding stars Porzingis and Grant. From an article by Sean Linhares on HoopsHabit.com, “Rambis seems content on giving Melo heavy minutes regardless. Despite playing for essentially nothing at this point, Anthony has been on the court more than his season average of 35 minutes per game in five of the six games Rambis has been in charge for, hitting the 40-minute mark once. Now, those minutes are beginning to get to Melo. In his past two games, Anthony has shot a combined 12-for-42, an awful 29 percent shooting clip….It’s actually been Kurt’s off-court handling of [Kristaps Porzingis] that has many concerned. At this point, I think we all know the Porzingis has an almost Kobe Bryant-like mentality, that this kid wants to genuinely be the best he can be and is as tough as they come. Still though, it strikes me as odd that an NBA head coach would call out his rookie the way he has.” Despite the concerns of the players and the fan base, Phil Jackson has no doubt in his mind Rambis can handle the heat. Tim Bontemps of the Washington Post quotes Phil, “I think he’s perfectly capable [of becoming Knicks Head Coach next year]…We’ve talked many times over the past four or five years about the obvious record that is created behind his coaching in Minnesota and that puts a black mark on his coaching ability at first glance…But he has a way of handling players. He’s relaxed, yet he has the ability to keep them focused on the important parts of it. He’s a defensive-oriented guy. I had him as my defensive coordinator for my teams in 2007, ’08 or ’09. And I think he has a real good handle on that part. So we’ll see how they go.” So regardless whether you think Rambis is an inadequate Head Coach or not, it’s safe to say Phil Jackson does not care about your opinion. Rambis seems destined to take over the Knicks full-time next year, and he’s the most probable candidate.
Second candidate for the Knicks job is ex-NuggetsHead Coach Brian Shaw. Guess what offense Shaw runs? That’s right, the Triangle. Some facts on Shaw-after replacing George Karl in June 2013- he didn’t last two seasons in Denver, similar to Derek Fisher. He went just 56-85 before being fired, but almost every one of his former players have vouched for him. Former Knicks Wilson Chandler and Danillo Gallinari had this to say: Wilson- “Dealing with New York? He played [under pressure] before. I mean, L.A.’s not New York, but it’s the second-biggest market. I think he’ll do fairly well-being mentored under Phil Jackson, and playing with the Lakers and winning a few championships, he knows about pressure. So just from that standpoint I think he’ll do good.”, and Danillo had this to say: “He spent a lot of time in L.A., so I guess there are a lot of similarities between L.A. and New York. But New York is tough for anybody to say how you or somebody could do in New York. You never know…When I played with him, we honestly didn’t play a lot of triangle, so I don’t know if he’s going to run this system. But the system, he won a lot of championships in the triangle, so I know he knows how to play it very well…He knows the system very well.’’ Shaw had a similar start to Derek Fisher. Fisher was considered a “Jackson Puppet”, and it seems Shaw could fall into the same boat. “I think [it was] a mixture of things. He had guys that weren’t his guys, a new system, first-time head coach, the expectations of the front office. It was just a mixture of things. It happens all the time. It’s just like players. You could be not a fit somewhere but a great fit somewhere else.” Like Fisher, Shaw is a gamble. He has limited Head Coaching experience, but makes up for that with his Assistant Head Coaching experience under Phil Jackson. Fisher was fired because of multiple reasons, but one of the reasons was he didn’t run the Triangle 100% of the time. Shaw doesn’t like to run only the Triangle either, you can’t in today’s quickly changing NBA. As far as him helping the Knicks, he seems like a repeat of the Fisher campaign. Another swing and miss. He coaches similar to Fisher, and that ended in a firing. Jackson is looking for someone who will only run his team, his way, so Shaw is a possibility but don’t bank on it.
Probability: Not Probable
Knicks fans across the globe pray for the Knicks to hire Tom Thibodeau. Sorry to break it to you, he doesn’t run the Triangle. Tom is known for his defense, something the Knicks desperately need. Probably the best thing on Tom’s resume is that he wins games, something New York isn’t accustomed to. In his first year of not being the Bulls Head Coach, they missed the playoffs for the 1st time since 2008. Frank Isola wrote in an article NY Daily News, “[Tom Thibodeau] once won a playoff series with Nate Robinson as his starting point guard…He turned Joakim Noah into an MVP candidate, rejuvenated Pau Gasol’s career and developed Jimmy Butler, a former 30th overall pick, into an All Star.” Not to mention his former MVP Derrick Rose was barely part of this. Rose was sidelined due to multiple injuries throughout Thibodeau’s career, making his success that much more extraordinary. From the same piece, “This is not a knock on Rambis. But it’s hard to make a case for Rambis when you compare his resume to that of Thibodeau’s: winning percentage, player development, defense, building a winning culture…Thibodeau is in a different class. ”The best part about Thibs is that he’s already coached in New York as an assistant, during his tenure with the Knicks, he helped the team set a then-NBA record by holding 33 consecutive opponents under 100 points. As part of the Knicks coaching staff, He spent seven years with the Knicks. Head Coach Van Gundy has described Thibodeau as “brilliant”. Thibodeau is responsible for building the 2008 Celtic’s defense and was a key factor in containing Kobe. He was rumoured to be the Knicks next Head Coach in 2008, but that fell through. He took over the helm in Chicago where he had a career record of 255-139, but tension between him and front office officials led to his departure in 2015. As to how he will help the Knicks in the future, he would demand stellar defense from a below-par defensive team. He’s a proven winner, something the Knicks need. So if he’s this great, it would be safe to assume he’s the Knicks first option, right? Wrong. Phil Jackson only cares about one thing and that’s if you’ll run his offense, his way, and ultimately be his puppet. Tom Thibodeau, although he says being Knicks coach would be a dream job, is definitely not going to be anyone’s puppet, so it’s unlikely you’ll see Thibs in New York anytime soon
Probability: Probably Not
A year ago, nobody would believe you if you said David Blatt might be the next Knicks Head Coach. Blatt, a first time NBA coach, locked in a first seed in the playoffs in his rookie season in Cleveland, and finished that with a loss in the NBA Finals. He was on pace to go back to the playoffs as the first seed, but was abruptly fired by the Cavs (aka LeBron James). Nobody saw it coming really, but that might work to the Knicks favor. Before making the jump to the NBA, Blatt was a coach of the year in leagues in Israel, Russia and Europe. He also led the Russian national team to a bronze medal in the 2012 Olympics. “Jackson views Blatt favorably, according to sources. It’s also worth noting that Blatt played basketball with Knicks GM Steve Mills at Princeton.” This is purely speculation, but Blatt might look for some sweet revenge squading up with the Knicks next year. Stealing some wins from LeBron in Cleveland would definitely be a little victory, but at the end of the day we come back to the same recurring problem: Blatt does not run the Triangle. Blatt is a well accomplished coach, but the big question here is how seriously Jackson will take Blatt as a candidate. Hiring him would almost certainly mean a departure from the triangle offense, and Jackson has not seemed particularly open to that idea. Blatt could run the Knicks, but don’t look forward to it.
The rumour mill is spiraling. Rumours that Phil Jackson has reached out to Mark Jackson surfaced today (April 12, 2016). “Mark Jackson, 51, took over a downtrodden Warriors franchise in 2011 and brought it to the playoffs in his second and third seasons, only to be fired a year before Golden State won the NBA championship in 2015. He has a 121-109 career record.” This might be just an attempt by the media to entertain us, or it might actually be Phil Jax drifting away from his bread and butter. “Jackson was the 18th pick of the 1987 NBA draft by the New York Knicks. He teamed with Patrick Ewing and Charles Oakley to turn the Knicks into a prime playoff team in the late 1980s and early 1990s. However, before the Knicks peaked and became regular playoff contenders, he was traded to the Los Angeles Clippers in 1992. Jackson had a steady career with the Knicks, most notably under coach Rick Pitino, averaging 13.6 points and 10.6 assists per game in his rookie season,” (SNY.tv). Mark Jackson is accustomed to New York lifestyle and could handle the pressure, but this is not a likely scenario. Phil isn’t done with the Triangle just yet.
The wildcards, or “sleepers” if you will, are the coaches who are extremely unlikely to get the job, but maybe the most appealing to fans. The first one is no other than the legendary Phil Jackson, the holder of 11 rings, 9 as a coach.
To see Phil as the Knicks Head Coach would be a dream to fans everywhere. He’s far and above the greatest coach of all time, and the only person who can teach the offense he wants taught. Although this is just a fantasy (but Phil becoming President was a fantasy too) it’s fun to speculate the magic he could make with #6 and #7 next year. The other wildcard is Knicks legend Patrick Ewing.
Ewing has expressed his interest in the team lately, stating “You know, this is a great fit for me…I have my number up there [in the Garden rafters]. I still live in the area. If I get an opportunity for an interview I’d be happy…I’ve been doing this, what, 13 years now? I see people who don’t have the same amount on their resume as I do and still have gotten opportunities.” Ewing is currently an assistant in Charlotte. He should definitely be a candidate for the Knicks Head Coaching job, but is it realistic? Maybe, but it’s questionable how a relationship between Phil and Pat would be. 2 legends on 1 team, we can only dream.
Some honorable mentions for the job are Scott Brooks, Jeff Hornceck, Kevin McHale, and Jeff Van Gundy. None of those names are being considered right now, but it shows that the Knicks have options. We look forward to an eventful 2016 offseason where we could see some drastic changes to the franchise.